Banana Boat

By Michael Sullivan

Around mid-June the king salmon start biting near Milwaukee on Lake Michigan. We had the perfect day planned out for 5 guys and my old man on his 36’ 1979 Pacemaker.

We’d scoured fishing blogs, talked to some of the local guides, or at least the ones we could trust, and the tackle shop owner gave us some insight as to what was getting hit. The kings were here, and we were‍ ready.

June coincides with the longest daylight of the year, so this was an early one. Somehow everyone actually showed up at the crack of dawn. Scott, our captain (also my dad), has this process down to a science and dialed all the equipment in the night before. The rest of us packed the boat with everything we needed for a successful day: breakfast biscuits, a banana, bag lunches, and plenty of beer.

Downriggers were set, poles were stacked in the side racks and we were ready to rip.

It was a perfect morning, one of the few that Lake Michigan will occasionally grace us with. 75 degrees, a very light breeze, and a slight fog that would eventually burn off. There was hardly a ripple on the giant lake.

We fired up the beautifully aged twin engine workhorse and pushed off. She and her teak deck still look stunning in the sunrise light. We were heading to 100 feet of water this morning, roughly a few miles NW, off the Milwaukee coast. Maybe a 20 minute ride at full throttle. Not too far and a fairly routine trip.

We slugged some coffee and daydreamed of the epic fishing day we were about to partake in. At about 90 feet of water, as we started to pull the throttle back, we heard baboom baboom baboom coming from below us. Not what you want to hear two miles from shore.

Smoke started billowing out the bottom of the cabin and everyone inside immediately scattered to the back deck. The booms turn into pat-pats as the starboard engines slowly conked out.

Thankfully no fire and no coast guard rescue was needed. We cleared the smoke from the cabin and assessed the damage, slowly realizing we weren’t catching fish this morning. We were just glad to be dry.

After a long look and everyone offering their version of  “I think this might be the problem,” the second engine fortunately fired up. It took what felt like an eternity to putt back in, but we eventually made it to the marina.

Back on the dock, tied up, and the first beer cracked, Scott noticed the lowly banana sitting on the cooler at the back deck.


I’ve never seen a face go redder than my buddy who brought a seemingly innocent breakfast appetizer. Only half-kidding, he grabbed the banana and heaved it as far as he could. An old bowrider cruising out of the marina obscured the splash. Once the boat passed, there was the banana bobbing lazily along. We were then treated to a long lecture on the history of why bananas aren’t allowed on the water.

The short version of that story is that in days when wooden sailboats ran trade routes, boats sank for a variety of reasons. Storms, pirates, bad sailors, etc. It’s said that the only thing left floating after a cargo ship sank would be the buoyant yellow fruit. A passer-by would see the bananas and know to look for survivors or wreckage. As the adage goes, you learn something new every day.

Shortly after this misadventure, a t-shirt was commissioned bearing the image of a big banana with a prohibitive “X” over it. That shirt sits in the berth and serves as a reminder that no matter how hungry you are, you never bring a damned banana on the boat.

From the FE Films Archive

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